A Downtown Los Angeles bakery has unexpectedly found itself at the heart of growing tensions between China and semi-autonomous Taiwan, and it all started over a photo of a cup of coffee. The backlash began at the Wilshire Boulevard location of Taiwanese restaurant chain 85ºC Bakery, and is now rippling through mainland China and Taipei stock trading floors.
As reported everywhere from The Guardian to Singapore-based English language publication The Straits Times, the parent company of 85ºC Bakery has found itself in hot water after photos were posted on social media showing Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen grabbing a coffee at a busy Downtown LA location. 85ºC Bakery is a Taiwanese company that has proven popular throughout China, greater Southeast Asia, Australia, and the United States, where the company has quickly expanded over the past few years, so at first the presidential roll-through would seem only natural. Except, of course, for a long-simmering nationalist debate about the autonomy of Taiwan overall.
From a mainland Chinese perspective, Taiwan remains an integral part of the greater People’s Republic of China, while many Taiwanese consider themselves to be a fully autonomous democracy. Only 18 countries in the world formally recognize Taiwan as a standalone state, and the United States (“The United States does not support Taiwan independence,” says the State Department officially) is not among them.
Regardless, President Tsai has been on a whirlwind tour of the United States the past few days, drawing ire from Beijing, who contend that this is a pro-democracy political tour that was not approved by the Chinese government. When the photo of President Tsai enjoying a coffee in Los Angeles surfaced on Facebook and, later, Chinese platform Weibo, there was widespread call for a boycott, with some users saying 85ºC Bakery is little more than a political front for the growing Taiwanese independence movement.
Well over half of the company’s revenues reportedly come from mainland China, forcing the group into damage control mode after the news wiped out more than $120 million from the company’s stock in Taipei practically overnight. 85ºC Bakery issued a statement fully supporting the anti-independence ‘One China’ doctrine, which immediately infuriated pro-independence Taiwanese forces. For now, President Tsai remains on her U.S. tour en route to countries in Central America.